Tips help you to en­sure straw­berry plant­ing suc­cess

Westside Eagle-Observer - - FARM AND HOME - STAFF RE­PORTS

Homegrown straw­ber­ries are a bil­lion times bet­ter tast­ing than the hard, rarely ripe, fla­vor­less se­lec­tion in the su­per­mar­ket. Straw­ber­ries are cold-hardy and adapt­able, mak­ing them one of the eas­i­est berries to grow and are the first fruit to ripen in spring.

While most fruit trees can take sev­eral years to be­gin bear­ing, you can har­vest your homegrown straw­ber­ries the very first sea­son you plant. And, even if you live in an apart­ment or small home, you can grow straw­ber­ries in a con­tainer on your bal­cony, rooftop or pa­tio. If your hor­i­zon­tal space is limited, con­sider grow­ing straw­ber­ries in a hang­ing bas­ket, straw­berry pot or stacked planter, which will al­low you to take ad­van­tage of ver­ti­cal grow­ing space as the straw­berry plants tum­ble out over the edges.

There are two main kinds of straw­ber­ries: “June-bear­ing” and “ever-bear­ing” va­ri­eties. June-bear­ing va­ri­eties bear all at once, usu­ally over a pe­riod of about three weeks. Be­cause of their ear­li­ness, high qual­ity and con­cen­trated fruit set, June-bear­ers, like All-star, pro­duce high yields of very large, sweet, ex­tra juicy berries in late mid­sea­son, which is usu­ally late spring and early sum­mer, de­pend­ing on your geo­graphic re­gion. These are the best va­ri­ety for pre­serv­ing. “Ever-bear­ing” straw­ber­ries pro­duce high yields of big, sweet berries from late spring un­til frost, with con­cen­trated fruit­ing in late sum­mer and fall. Perfect for large con­tain­ers or raised beds, where you can give them at­ten­tive wa­ter­ing and feed­ing.

Straw­berry pots are an ob­vi­ous con­tainer choice for grow­ing straw­ber­ries. You can fit sev­eral plants in one pot. Just make sure what­ever type of gar­den pot you use has good drainage. Straw­ber­ries have a rel­a­tively small root ball and can be grown in con­tain­ers as small as 10-12 inches in di­am­e­ter and 8 inches deep. How­ever, the smaller the con­tainer, the more fre­quently you will need to wa­ter. An­other great choice that’s prac­ti­cal and pretty are straw­ber­ries in hang­ing bas­kets; once they be­gin to fruit they’re show­stop­pers and fruits are easy “pick­ins.”

Straw­ber­ries are one of the eas­i­est and most de­li­cious home gar­den fruits to grow. Try grow­ing them with kids. Plants pro­duce fruit through­out the sum­mer and chil­dren will love to pluck them right off the plant, wash and eat. If your kids have yet to plant and care for a fruit or veg­etable, straw­ber­ries are a perfect choice for their first gar­den­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Kick off this gar­den­ing sea­son with your kids and get grow­ing straw­ber­ries!

Bon­nie Plants, avail­able at most gar­den re­tail­ers na­tion­wide, of­fers a good se­lec­tion of “ever-bear­ing” straw­ber­ries, in­clud­ing the very pop­u­lar Quin­ault va­ri­ety. This va­ri­ety of­fers large berries ripen­ing in abun­dance, ideal for pre­serves or fresh eat­ing.

Tips to en­sure straw­berry grow­ing suc­cess:

■ When plant­ing straw­ber­ries in-ground, be sure the crown is above soil level and the up­per­most roots are ¼ inch be­neath soil level; buried crowns rot and ex­posed roots dry out. Straw­berry plants should be placed ap­prox­i­mately 14 to 18 inches apart from each other in neat rows that are sep­a­rated by 2-3 feet each. Let run­ners fill in un­til plants are 7-10 inches apart.

■ Use mulch to keep berries clean, con­serve mois­ture and control weeds.

■ If you want to keep it sim­ple, plant straw­ber­ries in a con­tainer. Just re­mem­ber that con­tainer plant­ings need much more wa­ter than in-ground plant­ings, usu­ally once a day and, if it’s hot, twice. To know when to wa­ter, stick your fin­ger or a pen­cil 1.5-inches-deep into the soil in the cen­ter of the pot. If the soil is moist, don’t wa­ter; if dry, it’s time to wa­ter.

■ Straw­ber­ries like welldrained, fairly rich soil, so be sure to add com­post or other or­ganic mat­ter when pre­par­ing the pot or patch.

■ They need full sun, 6-8 hours per day, will grow in all zones and should be fed twice a year — when growth begins and after the first crop.

■ Control slugs and snails by hand­pick­ing them off plants, and pre­vent theft from birds by cov­er­ing your patch or pot with net­ting as the first berries ripen.

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